the imaginative conservative logo

TrumpBy his own accounts, Donald Trump is an amazing Christian… a proud Christian, possibly the most Christian candidate in the race. And his favorite book is the Bible. Sentiments of this sort may partly explain why Pope Francis opined that someone with Mr. Trump’s views is “not a Christian.” After all, the promised wall dividing the United States from Mexico is symbolic of a greater wall dividing Donald Trump from mere Christianity: that is, the great wall of a proud ego. It was that ego which allowed Mr. Trump the luxury of becoming the only major American candidate to attack the Pope rather than reflect upon himself. This trait plays well in the American land of individualism, where every man and woman is their own Pope, where authority is frowned upon, and where religious authority is considered a synonym for tyranny.

Thankfully for Mr. Trump, he is not running against the Pope, but rather looks poised to run against Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Secretary Clinton needs no introduction, and it is rather beside the point to attempt to define her for a wider audience. Those who venture to define Donald Trump will have an easier time of it because the vast majority of the electorate wonders just who he is and what kind of a President he may be. Conversely, few people wonder  who Hillary Clinton is and what kind of a President she would be. Mrs. Clinton does not support building a wall between Mexico and the United States. We might be forgiven for asking ourselves: If favoring a wall is a sign of an impious soul, does that make Mrs. Clinton, who opposes it, a Christian?

To ask the question is to demonstrate how little Christian political thought animates the American presidential race. Of all of the candidates, only Senator Bernie Sanders has given a speech indicating a thoughtful understanding of Catholic political thought—and at the invitation of the Vatican no less. Protestants and Evangelicals especially will no doubt disagree with the narrow tone of this essay, which appears to squeeze Christian thought into Catholic thought, but it remains a fact that while both Mr. Trump and Senator Sanders could deliver speeches at Liberty University, only Senator Sanders could deliver a speech in the Vatican. Do we live in an age when a secular atheist is more Christian than a man who proclaims what a wonderful Christian he is?

By this point, some readers may well wonder why so much time has been devoted to the subject of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy posture towards the leader of a distant city-state in Rome. It should not be necessary, amongst Christian conservatives, to elaborate the point that if European Civilization is to have any chance at recovery, its center must shift from Brussels to Rome. It matters less what any particular Pope says about any particular issue, and far more that the nations of continental Europe regain the moral compass that Rome once provided. Rome is the ultimate solution to all of the problems plaguing Europe and Western civilization in general. Rome was the basis for enduring European union in ages past, and a European Union which continues to turn its back on Rome in favor of Brussels will continue to disintegrate. Americans concerned with the preservation and revival of Western civilization should worry about the fate of the continent where their civilization was born and not attack Rome.

Pope Francis

Thus far Mr. Trump, like much of the European Right, has demonstrated a willingness to follow in the footsteps of the worst elements of the Left and attack Rome when it suits him. Protestants and Evangelicals may well argue that the recovery of Western Christian civilization is not synonymous with a return to Roman authority, and they may well be right insofar as Anglo-American civilization is concerned. For all the noise American conservatism makes over the Western heritage, it has never really cared much to engage the major component of the Western heritage: Catholic political theory and practice. In fact, the component of the Western heritage which is the true focus of practical American conservatism seems to be the enemy of conservative sensibilities: the Enlightenment and Reformation. The Christianity of Donald Trump is the embodiment of both of these currents. Whether or not they are truly conservative, let alone positive, is a matter of judgment.

Having said this, one must not make the mistake of thinking Mr. Trump’s probable opponent to be any better with regard to these issues. Secretary Clinton, while certainly not one to denounce the Pope in public, can hardly be counted upon to have given serious consideration to any of the important matters raised not only by Pope Francis, but by his many predecessors as well. If anything, Mrs. Clinton merely represents the left wing of the Enlightenment and Reformation while Mr. Trump represents its right wing. While rather indistinguishable at their core, they do have practical distinctions. If we believe the nestor of modern American conservative thought, Patrick Buchanan, America and the West are so far gone down the path of suicide that these distinctions matter little; America requires a St. Paul, not a Ronald Reagan. Still, while awaiting Divine Providence, citizens must make up their minds about the choices their democracy has produced for them. Mr. Trump is certainly no St. Paul. Is he at least a Reagan? Many will point to his crass and callous behavior and shout “no.” Others will point to his authenticity and claim he is indeed the sort of man the Gipper was: that is, his own man.

It would likewise be unfair to Mr. Trump were we to focus too much on the rather impolite forms he has adopted in expressesing the anger and anxiety of a growing number of Americans. To focus our ire upon Mr. Trump’s rage would be to ignore its source: the failure of the American political elite to deal effectively with the problems raised by illegal mass immigration, economic collapse, and military defeat. Mr. Trump is not the cause of these long festering problems, and it is in the interest of Mr. Trump’s enemies that all of us forget that they—not he—are to blame for America’s woes. If Mr. Trump offers severe solutions to these woes, it is only because an electorate long accustomed to America’s political elite ignoring it concerns and neglecting the common good has arisen at last in anger.

Donald-Trump-afp-800x430In modern America it is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable legal immigration and the criteria for granting legal status to immigrants because the political elite condones illegal immigration. It is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable American intervention overseas and the criteria for idealistic or realistic foreign policy because the political elite condones an imperial foreign policy of which power and vanity are perfectly acceptable components. It is impossible calmly to debate the level of acceptable international trade, to consider merits and demerits of various trade agreements because the political elite condones the practice by which corporate entities negotiate trade agreements in secret and then present Congress with bills which are to be voted up or down but not read or debated in public. Given such practices, it is little wonder why the people have grown angry with what the political elite finds acceptable and therefore condone Mr. Trump’s eccentricity as perfectly acceptable.

Insofar as this analysis is correct, Mr. Trump is not a threat to American democracy, but only a symptom of its utter failure and decline. When a people recognize that they have hit bottom, they know there is no fault in trying to get up using even the riskiest of means. The worst thing that can happen is that they will fall back down or even stay down permanently. Some careful men may caution that it is wiser to stay down and wait for fortune to change, but the impetuosity of the American spirit is not capable of accepting this. Americans instinctively reject such conservative advice. To stay down for fear of being put down is to put yourself down. Thus Mr. Trump’s successful slogan: “Make America Great Again.” Thus too the deplorable reality of an American republic in utter ruin, where the major Democratic party candidate needs to try to convince her fellow citizens that America is in fact a great country still.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Print Friendly
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
21 replies to this post
  1. “It would likewise be unfair to Mr. Trump were we to focus too much on the rather impolite forms he has adopted in expressesing the anger and anxiety of a growing number of Americans. To focus our ire upon Mr. Trump’s rage would be to ignore its source: the failure of the American political elite to deal effectively with the problems raised by illegal mass immigration, economic collapse, and military defeat. Mr. Trump is not the cause of these long festering problems, and it is in the interest of Mr. Trump’s enemies that all of us forget that they—not he—are to blame for America’s woes.”

    There it is, in a nutshell. I’d happily replace Mr. Trump with someone else, but everyone else seems to be in the employ of those who fund the political elite. The typical Trump supporter (and I know a few) concede Mr. Trump’s many faults. But most of them feel like they must vote for Trump or no one. (They know Mr. Sanders supporters and rightly conclude that anyone who could appeal to that crowd would only make things worse.)

  2. Mr. Wiley’s post is so sensible that I don’t understand why he doesn’t mention what looks, right now, to be more likely alternative monster (although only the current American population could fashion banality into monstrosity).

  3. Much of the debate on TIC about whether or not one can support Trump really tries to act like they know what Trump stands for. You don’t. I don’t. He changes his position every day, sometimes the same day, and says you are lying if you point it out. And even when he does not change his position publicly, he confidants and private statements to the press say that he has.

    Everyone seems to be looking for a reason, desperately searching for a hope, to get behind Trump or at least to rationalize it. The better argument, in my opinion the more honest one, is to admit like Prager, that you know what you are getting with Clinton, and you do not know with Trump. That there is at least a chance that it will not be as bad.

  4. I don’t think Mr. Trump’s “impolite forms” have much to do with his rage at the political failure to deal with America’s problems. They have to do with his temperament and character. He is unfit to be president. I have never cast a vote for president that I was not proud of, starting with my first vote for Ronald Reagan. I’m not going to start now. I’m voting for Mr. Castle and the Constitution Party at the top of the ticket, and my state’s GOP candidates down from that. Will that help Mrs. Clinton if other conservatives do the same? Maybe, but I’m honestly not sure what would be worse; a ‘Leftist’ Clinton presidency, or four years of an embarrassing national reality TV program hosted by a president who is NOT a conservative but who is a boorish megalomaniac who is sure to damage the republic and destroy the conservative movement in America.

    • I fail to see how Trump, or anyone else, could possibly “destroy the conservative movement in America.” What movement would that be? The only one I see (outside of a cadre of conservative intellectuals) is that represented by today’s GOP: one that backs open immigration, destructive trade, crony capitalism, and adventurism abroad. That’s not a “conservative movement.” If that’s what Trump will destroy, count me in!

      Trump is not a conservative and therefore cannot be supported? Did you support McCain (I didn’t), proponent of anti-free-speech ‘campaign finance reform’, of immigration amnesty, and of no end to ‘nation building’ overseas? Did you support Romney, author of Romneycare, previous backer of Planned Parenthood, and a very comfortable member of neocon and Chamber of Commerce-dominated circles?

      Trump is indeed boorish, and unreliable. As for a megalomaniac, I have been given no reason to believe that Trump is closer to one than any other Presidential candidate.

      • He will destroy it because those who call themselves conservatives who ardently back him, will own his bigotry, his racism, his misogyny, his tactics. We conservatives are and have been, facing a demographic train wreck. What happened to the California GOP, (That I witnessed first hand.), will happen nationally. We will not be able to go back to women, Latinos, other minorities, etc., after Trump and say, “Oh, we supported him…but all that stuff; that wasn’t us!” “We HAD to support him, but we weren’t *really* with him on those views!” “Please vote for us now and just forget about all that.” It will be too late then.

        • First, what makes Trump a bigot, a racist, a misogynist? Lots of name-calling here. Every time I look for evidence, what is so breathlessly offered turns out to be extremely lame. If there were anything solid I would have seen it by now.

          Second, from the limited polling available so far, Trump appears to be doing better than Romney with Latinos, and about the same as Romney with blacks and women. (His negatives are high, but his head-to-head polls don’t reflect this.) The whole idea that Trump further damages the GOP with these groups is just empirically false.

          Third, I want to know who the miracle candidate was who was going to reverse GOP fortunes with poorly-performing groups. In primaries, non-Cuban Latinos rejected Rubio, Cruz, and Bush in favor of Trump. The whole magic-bullet-with-Latinos idea was exploded as false.

          • As to your first question, I don’t think there is space here to quote his now, extremely well known comments on about everyone from his mocking the disabled, his vicious anti-woman comments, his comments on Latinos. I suppose that you either missed it or dismiss it.

            Second, I assume you are confusing the polling of the tiny minority of those groups who voted in the GOP primaries as opposed to the general elections likely voters because that polling shows Trump with the highest unavailability rating with those groups, of any GOP candidate ever. Heck, the latest Gallup poll shows that even a majority of GOP women view him unfavourably. Among Latinos, no Republican nominee has ever had as poor a favorability rating than Trump.

            As to who is the “miracle candidate”…there is none because this problem preceded Trump and is bigger than any one candidate. Reagan got only got 55% of the white vote and won 44 states in an historic landslide. Romney got about 60% of the white vote and lost by over 125 electoral votes against weak president who couldn’t crack a 50% approval rating. It’s going to take serious outreach to Latinos, women, millennials, etc., for conservatives to remain viable in the future. Trump will be a step in the opposite direction.

    • “a president who is NOT a conservative but who is a boorish megalomaniac who is sure to damage the republic and destroy the conservative movement in America.”

      I think you’ve just described Hillary Clinton!

      Seriously, the reality is that America has a two party system, meaning every 4 years there are only two candidates for president who have any chance of winning. So the only reason NOT to vote for Donald Trump is if you are honestly convinced Hillary is the better candidate, both personally and politically.

      • If I were convinced of that I would vote for her. I have no intention of doing so. I’ve voted for plenty of candidates over the years, that didn’t win and that I knew couldn’t win when I cast those votes. This won’t be any different.

  5. “Some careful men may caution that it is wiser to stay down and wait for fortune to change”

    God save us from such “careful men”! “Careful men” have been the death of us! As Machiavelli counseled, inaction due to excessive ‘carefulness’ is often the least prudent, and most dangerous, course.

  6. Mr. Trump is a , fill in the blank with all the adjectives you wish. I’ve long thought that most if not all of those that throw their hat in the presidential race should be in a psychiatrist office rather than the Oval. But Clinton suffers from all of these psychological maladies and then some. Like the narcissistic one in the office now, she’ll relish her play as dictator even more so. Do you like identity politics, political correctness, executive orders and directives concerning themselves with bathrooms? Then you’ll love Clinton’s will to power injecting steroids into all of the above. Yes, we know what we’ll get with Clinton, a passing from de Tocqueville’s soft despotism to hard. And all done as well with 6-3 Court blessings. Don’t you just love those penumbras and emanations?

    If Clinton wins the election I’m going to get myself some popcorn and sit back to watch the show if only for a little while. I’ve never been able to sit through an entire film depicting meaninglessness and this one should be as bad as the worse nihilistic film title of which you can think. After all, what difference does anything make?

  7. The first thing that attracted me to Trump was, quite simply, that’s he’s not Mitt Romney. Or Jeb Bush, who was being set up to be the 2016 version of Mitt Romney, meaning the Establishment approved “Respectable” nice guy loser.

    Second to that is he’s perhaps the first post-ideological presidential candidate. As such, he is not beholden to all the various special interests, which may be why the Pundit Class loathes him with such intensity. A few months ago National Review printed an entire issue devoted to attacking him. Trump’s response? He didn’t get angry or defensive, he simply said that “Hardly anyone reads that magazine any more”. That that was it, the “Controversy” simply melted away with one short statement and never rose up again.

  8. I have found Mr. Trump’s campaign illuminating, not for his vulgarity but for how he has drawn the ire of the professional “conservative” punditry, who found to their dismay that attacking his incoherencies made no visible affect among his supporters, so they turned to attacking those same supporters. (And it was bare months before that they were lauding those same common folk.)

    All I know is –if you support the lesser of two evils (Trump vs Clinton), you are still supporting evil. Selah.

    It will not be the death of conservatism, but it might be the downfall of “Conservatism, Inc.”

  9. There are things in the world of politics much worse than Donald Trump . Evil is indeed a relative concept insofar as those who think Mr. Trump a lesser evil have it so well that they are blessed with no grasp of the depths to which evil can truly reach.

  10. !. The American middle class has endured five decades or so of abuse from our Progressive Overlords.
    2. There have been a couple of failed efforts (Buchanan, Perot) to overthrow the Progressives.
    3. Trump, it appears, has succeeded in defeating the GOP wing of said progressives and may defeat the Democrat-Progressive in the presidential race.
    4. Trump says he’s going to attempt to restore the American middle class.
    5. All men are sinners.
    6. There is no utopia.
    7. The flawed, loud, and vulgar Donald Trump gets my vote.

  11. Here’s a good exercise to exorcise the demons of guilt regarding the vulgar Trump:

    Read the Federalist papers 2 and 11.

    Look at the language in 2. Sound familiar ?

    Look at the distinction between passive and active commerce in 11.

    Trump is speaking the language of Hamilton .

  12. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: “The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil in it than of good. There are few things that are wholly evil or wholly good.”

    THOMAS SZASZ: “No person, and especially no politician, is God’s gift to humanity, but some people, and many politicians, are surely the devil’s gift. Representative governments are thus successful not in proportion to how well the voters select virtuous politicians, who are scarce–but to how well they avoid wicked ones, who are common.”

  13. It is clear today, after his attacks on the judiciary and the press, that this man is a danger to our democratic institutions. Institutions that guard our freedoms. If one sees five decades of progressive rule in this nation one would be reasonable to assume that five decades of poor arguments for conservative ideals would be at least partially to blame.

    And certainly, no one making those arguments throughout the decades could see the danger we are facing. Failure on top of failure. Those who endorse Trump are making a very bad mistake. Just what do you think fighting fascism looks like?

  14. If the judiciary and the press attack a candidate for one branch of government , then this is not an attack on an institution that guards our freedom , but if a presidential candidate attacks the judiciary and the press then it is?

    Whatever happened to checks and balances? Pressing forward with a court case against a Presidential candidate during an election is at least open to question, is it not? And if the Supreme Court could recently rule in favor of a Death Row inmate because of the race of the jury, then why can’t a Presidential candidate question the race of a judge if he thinks that it may bias the case? We cannot have it both ways. Democrats for decades insisted on emphasizing race as a political factor. Donald Trump obliges them. When they return to the idea that all Men are created equal then Mr. Trump may also change his tune. I agree it is unfortunate but it is the reality we are in.

    It was not the Republican party which divided Americans by race and sexual orientation to satisfy ideology. Multiculturalists have led to the present tribalism. Getting out of it is only possible if the American tribe defeats the multicultural tribe.

    As for fighting fascism, I don’t understand that point. Donald Trump is a fascist? Is that the implication? Why?

Please leave a thoughtful, civil, and constructive comment: